Monday, November 19, 2012

The Drowning - Richard Herley

    2011; 352 pages.  New Author? : No.  Rumored to be Book #2 of the author's "Water" series.  Genre : Contemporary Fiction.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

   Roland Singer has a rewarding job, albeit one that pays modestly  He is a live-in tutor for 12-year-old George Urquhart, who has been wheelchair-bound since birth.  Roland and George’s relationship is more than just teacher/student; they also have a deep and enduring friendship. 

    But Roland would also like to have a deep relationship with George’s 20-year-old sister, Elspeth.  Indeed, he is smitten speechless by her.  Isn’t it a pity that she is already spoken for?  Ah, but isn’t it a pity Roland and Elspeth are soul mates? 

What’s To Like...
    I’m going to call The Drowning a “situational” book.

    For starters, there are situational ethics.  Indeed, the book’s title comes from one – in World War 2, a captain of a sunken U-boat is clinging to life in the icy waters beside the British destroyer that just sank his ship.  Should the British sailors rescue him, or let him drown?  The decision will have consequences for generations to come.

    Then there are situational religions.  Richard Herley weaves a number of isms into the story – Buddhism, Catholicism, Anglicanism, Hinduism, Jewishism, and (if you can include it) Humanism.  Remarkably, all are given equal treatment.  They each serve a purpose for a given circumstance.  But none of them hold all the answers to life.

    There is also situational history, in the form of a very close-up examination of the 1960’s Biafran crisis.  Most of us remember it only as the big, bad Nigerians starving out the poor, defenseless Igbos.  While that is in fact true, Richard Herley suggests the situation was a lot more complex than that.

    Finally, there is situational love.  Just because you’re soul mates, doesn’t mean that mistakes and wrong choices can’t be made, and they too have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

Kewlest New Word...
    Oik (n.) : an uncouth or obnoxious person.  (aren't Britishisms kewl?)

    Just now Bel had been showing Elspeth her new Beatles LP, entitled, appropriately enough, Help!  Elspeth had once asked her which of the Beatles she would wed; Elspeth herself quite fancied George Harrison.  “I’ll have Lennon,” Bel had said.  “Or McCartney, I don’t mind which.  Think of all the royalties.”   (loc. 1589)

    “But … what’s bad about twins?”
    “Multiple births were an abomination to pre-Christian Igbos.  Only animals were supposed to have more than one young.  Twins were killed at once or left out in the forest to die, and the mother had to go ritual cleansing.”
    “But that’s just superstition.  They’re beyond that now, surely?”
    “We still touch wood for luck.  That goes back to Viking times.”  (loc. 3299)

“The wheel has many spokes, but only one hub.”  (loc. 5517)
        There is much more to like about The Drowning than the situationals.  As usual, Richard Herley’s skill as a writer shines through, and his descriptive passages are once again superb.  I especially liked the depiction of 1960’s Britain that starts off Part 2.  He gives nods to various other writers, including Chinua Achebe, and Ted Hughes, the poet laureate and erstwhile spouse of Sylvia Plath.  Indeed, I wonder if making one of the major characters wheel-chair bound is a tip of the hat to Robert Heinlein.  Plus, my favorite town in England, Chertsey, makes a cameo appearance, and that always gets a thumbs-up from me.

    The book’s title and blurb are misleading.  Although The Drowning certainly does explore the consequences of the fateful decision regarding the U-boat captain, that isn’t its main focus.  This is about Roland and Elspeth, their lifetime-spanning love, and the obstacles to it that are thrown up by the choices each makes along the way.

    This is the sixth Richard Herley book I’ve read, and they’ve all been a treat.  But The Drowning  sits a tad above the others for two reasons.  First, because the various situational complexities are so deftly woven together that the overall story remains coherent.  I gotta think that was not an easy thing to do.

    Second, because of a superb ending that will both surprise you and leave a lump in your throat.  I don’t think any of the other five RH books finished this strongly.  9 Stars.

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